The New York Yankees have acquired left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ from the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports, ending their month-long pursuit of a starting pitching addition. In exchange for Happ, the Blue Jays will receive two players — infielder Brandon Drury and minor league outfielder Billy McKinney.
Happ is the Yankees’ second high-profile acquisition of the week, as the team traded for now former-Orioles closer Zach Britton on Tuesday. These two moves come as the team attempts to keep pace with the Boston Red Sox in the competitive American League East division. Despite the team’s 64-36 record, the second-best record in baseball, they currently sit 5 1⁄2 games out of the division lead.
The 35-year-old Happ is having a solid, though not phenomenal, year. He’s 10-6 with a 4.18 ERA over 114 innings in his 20 starts. Where Happ is doing well, though, are in his peripherals. His 27.4 percent strikeout rate, compared to his 7.4 walk rate, produces the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career and the 15th-highest in the majors. His 4.17 DRA is just about six percent above league average, adjusted for park factors. Overall, Happ has been worth 2.0 fWAR this year.
While not a big name, Happ should provide stability to a Yankees’ rotation that has looked shaky at times. Luis Severino is a clear ace in New York, but Sonny Gray has underwhelmed (to say the least), Masahiro Tanaka has spent time on the disabled list, and options at the back of the rotation have had varying degrees of success. On the whole, the Yankees’ rotation ERA- is 95, 12th in the majors.
Happ is in the final year of his three-year, $36 million contract that he signed with Toronto prior to the 2016 season. The deal ended up working out quite favorably for the club, with him producing 8.1 fWAR over his two-and-a-half seasons before being traded today. For the Yankees, this means that Happ is a rental addition, but with only about $5 million left on his contract for this year, they should be able to accomplish their goal of staying under the luxury tax.
This is an important feature for them, as they expect to be big players for Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and others this off-season. Staying under the luxury tax threshold allows their tax rate to be reset going forward, making it more affordable to spend big on these free agents. In Drury and McKinney, the Jays receive a decent package for a rental starter.
Drury has been squeezed out of the Yankees’ crowded lineup, and, as a result, he has been on the trade block for the entire month. Drury has played in just 18 games this year, but in 480 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks in 2017, he hit .267/.317/.447 with 13 home runs, 63 RBIs and a 92 wRC+ over 480 plate appearances, good for 1.0 fWAR. He comes with three more years of team control, which has made him an attractive option for interested teams so far this year.
McKinney ranked 20th on the Yankees’ top-30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. He made his MLB debut this year and has four plate appearances at the big league level without a base knock. In 261 plate appearances across three minor league levels this year, McKinney slashed .230/.307/.481 with 13 home runs and 35 RBIs. The Blue Jays will be McKinney’s third organization after being selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 1st round of the 2013 MLB Draft. He was traded in both the Jeff Samardzija deal, sending him to the Cubs, and the Aroldis Chapman deal, sending him to the Yankees.
On the whole, the Yankees get their much-needed starting pitching depth, dealing for arguably the best available option in this pitching-starved market. For this rental, the Blue Jays acquire two high-level position players with both upside and team control.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.